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Bishop Emma's Sermon

A full transcript of the Sermon preached by the Rt Rev Dr Emma Ineson, Bishop of Penrith at her Welcome and Installation Service in Carlisle Cathedral on Sunday 17 March, 2019.

Text: Luke 14. 27-33 and 1 Corinthians 4: 1-16

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Can I begin by thanking you for your wonderful welcome to myself and Mat to the Diocese of Carlisle and this ecumenical county of Cumbria? Thank you, too, to all who travelled to York in the glorious sunshine for my consecration a couple of weeks ago. Thanks for all the cards and good wishes we’ve received. I’m very grateful to God for calling me to be the Bishop of Penrith and I’m looking forward to all the adventures we’ll share together.

The reading we heard from Luke’s Gospel is the lectionary reading set for today. So, to coin a phrase, ‘I did not choose it, it chose me’. It is one of those funny little bits of the bible that you have to read twice, because you think, ‘Really? Jesus said this?’ And I have to preach on it? Really? Yes really. I’ve no problem with 1 Corinthians 2 verse 4: ‘I came to you in weakness and fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom’. That I can fully own. But this: ‘Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple … none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions’? It’s not the text I’d have chosen. But then I don’t think it’s what I’d have said, either, if I were Jesus, which, thankfully I am not. If it’d been up to me I’d have come to you today with some nice words of encouragement, “life in all its fullness”, “all are welcome” or something equally lovely. I’d have tried to win you over with talk of God’s love. But Jesus, rather, says, You want to follow me? Well OK, but it’s tough. It’ll demand everything you have, and everything you are, possibly even your very life, so be sure to count the cost before you sign up. As an evangelistic strategy, it seems pretty dubious. I often think Jesus didn’t attend quite enough ‘How to win friends and influence people’ seminars. Following him, he says, is like building a tower that you don’t want to leave half-finished due to insufficient resources, or like calculating whether you’ve enough soldiers to defeat the enemy before you turn up to fight. Be sure to calculate what it might cost before you commit to being my disciple, he says.

As churches, we’re quite into counting things at the moment. We talk a lot about resources. What they are, how best to use them, frequently how scarce they are. Counting things can be good and necessary, as Jesus shows, but only if for the right reasons. It’s sensible to weigh up what it will take to fulfil a task. But his words today also challenge a consumer-driven approach to Christian mission, where we might be tempted to try and ‘sell’ all that Jesus has to offer (on his behalf, of course) in the marketplace of competing ideas and ways of living. According to Luke 14, following Jesus is an ‘all or nothing’ proposition.

One of the things that most jumped out at me in the role description for Bishop of Penrith, was the God for All vision, whereby (join in with me): By 2020 every person in Cumbria of all ages and backgrounds will have an opportunity to discover more of God and God's purpose for their lives, and become followers of Jesus within a Christian community. That’s quite an ‘all or nothing’ vision. It’s audacious and bold and, I believe, is what the church everywhere should be doing - working together across boundaries to share the good news of Jesus with everyone.

Our reading today is sandwiched between some wonderful stories of God’s love and welcome for all. Just before it, the story of a Great Banquet, whose host goes out into the streets to invite people in. And just after it, a shepherd leaves 99 sheep to look for 1 who was lost, and a father runs with joy towards his errant son returning home. All are warmly welcomed and invited. Truly, God for All.

But what these verses show us is that alongside ‘God for All’, we must also turn the challenge round and ask - All for God? Are we prepared wholeheartedly to follow Jesus on the way of the cross, to give our all, as his disciples? Discipleship and mission are two sides of the same coin, and we can’t have one without the other. Indeed, without wholehearted commitment to Christ and his cross, - we won’t have the resources, the capacity, the gumption, the purpose, the power we need to go to the places, people and communities to whom Jesus calls us in mission. He requires of us a life of considered, informed and wholehearted follower-ship. Why? Because he hates us and wants us to suffer? No, exactly the opposite, because he loves us and knows what’s best for our flourishing. At the moment our son is doing his A levels. It would be the easiest thing in the world to say to him, ‘Hey Toby, relax and put your feet up. It’ll be fine. I’m sure you’ll pass your exams’. Instead I must encourage … OK cajole … OK nag him to put in the hard work of study. Not because I want him to be miserable, but because I love him and know that hard graft now will stand him in good stead for what he wants to achieve in the future. The call to consider the cost of discipleship comes out of God’s heart of love for us and his desire to see us live life to the full.
Now, and I want to say this very clearly - this call to take up his cross is not an invitation to overwork. Jesus assures us that his yoke is easy, his burden is light and in him our souls find rest. So don’t be surprised if when we meet, I ask you when your rest time is and what you do for refreshment (in my case, walking the dogs, theatre and gardening). That’s simply sensibly calculating the resources we’ll need for the long journey.

I am so aware at the start of this ministry as your bishop along with Bishop James, I come to you, as we come to each other, with nothing but Christ. In ourselves we have nothing - and yet in Christ, we have everything. If we commit to costly discipleship, to following him, to carrying - not our own strategies, capabilities, qualifications, statistics, clever words and schemes - but his cross, then we will find that - in him - we have all the resources we will ever need. As St Paul says, “I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Christ, and him crucified.’ None of us has what it takes to fulfil God’s mission in our own strength. We consider and weigh the cost that is rightly ours to bear - wholehearted discipleship - and then we leave the rest to his provision.

So is it worth it, following Jesus? I can truly say from the bottom of my heart that it is. Personally, deciding to follow him on the often hard road of Christian faith has been the most important thing I have ever done. It is fulfilment, joy, peace, and the knowledge that I am walking in step with my creator. There really is no other way. It is the pearl of great price that Jesus talks about, and I for one am prepared to give up everything for it. How about you? And if we respond to Jesus's call to follow him, we can be very sure of one thing - that he doesn’t say, ‘There’s your cross - pick it up and off you trot’. He walks with us every step of the way. ‘I am with you always’, he said, ‘to the very end of the age’. So if you find your Christian walk leading you into some challenging places - to hard ethical decisions, tough contexts, a change of job, some daunting new calling, (like being the Bishop of Penrith, for example!) or if you’ve laid some foundations and are wondering how you'll complete the tower, or you’re faced with an army 10,000 bigger than you’d imagined, know that the One who calls you is faithful, he is with you - and he will do it. So, will you join me in committing again today - or first the first time - to following Jesus wholeheartedly, carrying his cross and seeking first his Kingdom - in Carlisle, in Cumbria and to the ends of the earth?

Let’s pray.

RS Thomas, speaks of giving up everything for Christ and his Kingdom: in his poem; ’The Bright Field’:
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

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